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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Inside the life of a DC SCORES coach

“I was just so excited,” remarked a Tubman boy the day after the first organized competitive soccer game of his life. “It was the first time I’ve worn a uniform and played against kids -- and with referees!”

These heartfelt words jumped out of this boy’s mouth, and simply a recount of this event caused him to breathe heavily with excitement. I told him that I was happy for him, proud of him, and we high-fived each other.

It was remarkable how important that experience was for him -- I have no memory of a similar experience as a child. As an avid youth sports participant starting at age 5, competing against other kids my age was the norm.

I was expected to enroll in various sports leagues as a way to enjoy my time out of the classroom. It wasn’t until this boy expressed how much he appreciated the chance to be part of a team and run up and down the field with his opponents that I realized the importance of my role as a DC SCORES coach.

As a child, the idea of being part of a sports team was unremarkable. From an early age I was encouraged to become a multi-sport athlete, and there were endless opportunities around Boston to do this (I never developed any skills enough to play college sports, but that’s beside the point).

Competing on sports teams was just another extracurricular activity that my friends and I did in front of supportive community members, who came to watch our games.

Coaching at Tubman allows me to see a much different story. The boy who came up to me after the game is not alone -- many other students are playing an organized sport for the first time in their lives.

At first glance, one may question how surprising this is, considering these students are still just 9 and 10 years old. However, it’s substantial on a deeper level. Without DC SCORES, these children may have never gotten the chance to be part of an athletic team.

In general, only a select few get to play organized sports in high school and beyond. For many children who will not grow into outstanding athletes as they mature, youth sports, especially in elementary school, provide their one opportunity to compete. Their neighborhoods either don’t value youth sports as integral to youth development or don’t have the resources to make it happen.

It has dawned on me that for many of my kids, I was the first they could call “coach,” the first adult on a soccer field to impact their lives physically and emotionally.

So in this one sense, I am thankful for this tremendous responsibility to shape students' lives, and I appreciate the work DC SCORES does to ensure that students can be part of at least one sports team in their lives.

More importantly, I have begun to gain an understanding of the DC SCORES mission through moments like that one with the Tubman boy.

Of course, simply getting kids to play sports is awesome -- and just playing was the only motivating factor that pushed me into sports as a child. But as I got older, it became clear that through sports I was learning about myself, the world around me, and acquiring knowledge and values I may never have gotten. I was not lucky enough to participate in a program like DC SCORES that encouraged kids to become leaders in their community through teamwork and commitment on and off the field.

So while many kids are just now getting the chance to be part of a team, they will someday be thankful (if not already) that it is under the direction of DC SCORES, not just any youth sports league.

I can already see the effects of the program on the kids, and it inspires me to continue being a figure they can look up to.

-- Written by Zach Elkin, Elementary School Program Coordinator for DC SCORES and soccer coach at Tubman Elementary School

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